Sometimes things just work out the way you envision them. After
making a late decision, things fell into place and I made a surgical
strike to Chicago to catch Widespread Panic's Halloween show at
the UIC Pavilion. Having skipped the traditional New Orleans
weekend, I was determined to get my Panic 'Ween fix in somehow.
Let me start off by saying the UIC Pavilion is one helluva
crappy place to see music. The sound went in waves of being truly
excellent, to a shade, to boomy, but that was the least of the
problems. The GA floor was way too packed making it all but
impossible to get in and out of your spot - even worse than it
usually is for a general admission show. No alcohol sales for a
Halloween show is just unacceptable, albeit for a Wednesday
night. Suffice it to say, I will never be going back to that shack
The band certainly tried to make the most of their surroundings.
After a predictable but fun opening set from the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, the curtains were taken down and the stage was set up to
reveal a neat little Moonscape. "Sunny rocks and funny trees"
were set up around the band's equipment and even a lunar module
was masking Mike Houser's spot on stage. A huge disc painted
like the Earth was situated dead center above the stage recreating
an Earthrise situation as seen from the moon. As the band took
the stage and the lights went down, Panic's patented "star curtain"
was illuminated to add the finishing touches to the transformation.
Throughout the night, the lights would enhance the visual portion of
the show setting up some serious moods with different colors and
lights bouncing off the "rocks" and suspended Earth. As for
costumes, only John Bell was dressed up - face painted black and
dressed as Marvin the Martian.
Set I: Porch Song >> Little Lily > Dear Mr. Fantasy, Henry Parsons
Died, Diner > Blue Indian, Love For Sale, Thought Sausage
Set II: Coconut*, Joe's Garage* > Wild Thing* > Joe's Garage* >
Ball of Confusion* > Drums+ > Cortez the Killer > Ain't Life Grand
> Imitation Leather Shoes
E: Pilgrims, Traveling Light
It was easy to predict the "Porch Song" opener - Wednesday night
we would certainly be "living the moontime." The Porch was high-
energy as always and got the crowd electrified for the show
immediately. Although the stage was set to reflect the tranquility
and silence you can probably only encounter on the moon, "Porch
Song" set the stage for a show that was the complete opposite.
Pure, unadulterated, nasty Panic from start to finish. "Porch Song"
opened up to a typical WSP jam that is simple in its foundations
but far-flung in its breath.
The jam twisted around Houser's leads with, for the moment,
crystal sound. The band was markedly tight and the jam came off
their instruments easily and smoothly. Pretty much the whole first
set went along like this - straight-up Widespread Panic, tight
playing from all members, dancing and grinning in the crowd. The
segues were terrific in the opening triumvirate with a standard "Little Lilly"
filling in between the blistering "Porch" and early mayhem of "Dear Mr.
The real stand out for me in the first set was the "Henry Parsons
Died." This is a song that I feel I've heard so many times that I
usually let out an internal groan when it starts up. But lately it's
been knocking me on my ass and the Halloween version ensured
that I'll never groan again. Full-frontal-lobotomy Widespread is
what has become of this Bloodkin cover. As it usually does, the
middle jam built and built driven by Dave Schools' "The Other One"-
themed bass lines and whirling Houser riffs. Where the theme
usually breaks, I was expecting the jam to simmer and make way
for JB's entrance on the last verse. Instead, the band zigged where
they usually zag and elevated to the next level. They entered the
"segue jam" netherworld where you find yourself elbowing the guy
next to you saying things like "sounds like they're going into..." -
but then I realized that "Parsons" was never finished. More and
more intensity was heaped onto the wall of sound, blood dripping
from my ears until finally, minutes-that-seem-like-an-eternity later
they detach from the rocket boosters and re-enter the calm orbit of
"Henry Parsons." Sweet, sweet stuff that really exemplifies why if
you have little expectations, making a silly 24-hour jaunt to see
Panic mid-week is almost always worth it.
"Diner" was its usually guitar-flavored mayhem with JB sounding syrupy with his vocals. Like all the segues in the first set, the
one out of "Diner" was right-on excellent. "Blue Indian" is a song I
have not yet grown tired of hearing, especially when I'm jammed in
on the floor of a Halloween show with plenty of friends around. The
show was certainly a-rocking one up to this point, but I think I wasn't
alone in wondering if we'd get any of the usual Halloween silliness
to keep things interesting or if this show would stay on the middle-
of-the-road path for the rest of the night. That question was
answered as the band busted out it's first new cover of the night -
"Love for Sale" by the Talking Heads. Fairly straightforward near-
punk rocking from the T. Heads, but a fun tune, nonetheless.
Unfortunately, I thought the band butchered it (for lack of a better
word) - particularly JB who navigated the lyrics and changes like a
guy who gets up in the pitch-black of the night to take a whizz and
stubs his toe painfully two or three times before finally relieving
himself. Too bad - skipped the last verse completely. I imagine
that one will not make it back out of the box in the near future.
set finished in strong-mediocre fashion with the nasty, 6-headed
funk of "Thought Sausage."
The set break went pretty quickly and additional mics were set up
to accommodate what would no doubt be a bevy from the Dirty
Dozen. Sure enough, out of the gate, the full regalia of horns took
their spot and the band busted into the crowd favorite "Coconuts." I
couldn't help but remembering that this tune, which is now semi-
regular in the "rotation," was played only on Halloween for the
better part of the '90's. Seemed fitting to play it on their first true
Halloween show in a couple of years. I think the horns really
enhance this tune from party-song to all-out rager. Great way to
get out of the gate.
The horns stayed on stage and I think many people were waiting
for the obligatory "Christmas Katie" or "Weight of the World."
Instead, the crowd was silenced by the beginning of a song they
certainly had never heard before (and most did not recognize). The
band was dead on, though, and soon it became clear to most that
the band had selected, beyond our ability to reason why, Zappa's
"Joe's Garage" (from album of same name) to play this Halloween.
I have to say they really nailed it - the full band and horns
completely in synch and JB wailing away gleefully - and midway
through the song they stopped on a dime, (whiplash, anyone?) and
flew into the rock-and-roll classic "Wild Thing." The crowd went
nuts as the band surged over the quintessential rock riffs. Each
chorus was accompanied by the entire crowd - "...I think I love you,
but I want to know for sure!!" Too much fun. When they flipped
into a tiny jam and brought it back into "Joe's Garage" I was a bit
confounded by their dexterity and found myself, once again,
shaking my head in amazement at what the band had pulled off
with both grace and ass-kicking, Panic-style rock and roll.
"Joe's Garage," with horns still completely in tow, made its way into
yet another "I've-never-heard-this" opening. "Ball of Confusion" is a
Temptations cover the band has played once or twice in their long
history and took everyone in the house (that had any inkling of that
history) by complete surprise. They had busted out a long-shelved
original instrumental on Saturday in New Orleans, and this time of
year anything and everything is possible, but this?? The band was
on a roll, and once again - the f'in nailed it. The only version of this
song I've heard is a crappy recording of the last time they played it -
Halloween from 1989. With the horns filling in, this funky, off-kilter
tune was brilliant. The whole band was locked into a tight groove
that had me shaking and smiling and absorbing all at once. Tricks,
treats, rock and roll, we were getting the full treatment for sure. I
should mention that somewhere in there (I think it was right before
they made it into "Ball of Confusion") Jojo laid down an
unmistakable vamp on "Love The One You're With" - the doo-doo-
doo part from the CSN classic. It doesn't take a genius to figure
out that "Ball of Confusion" is this wild planet we're living on and
never has this been more true than these days (National Guard in
the airport greeting you at security checkpoints?). But for
Halloween, we were transported to the moon and looked down on
what seemed to be a simply beautiful "ball" that made perfect
sense from out vantage point.
Drums ensued and was marked by the appearance of DDBB's
drummer, Terence Higgens who started on the drum kit and moved
over to percussion midway through the session. I seriously can't
stand the drums portion of the show, but it is made so much better
when there is the freshness of a guest sitting in. The denouement of
drums brought Dave back out to get serious on the bass. Schools,
as usual, had been ruling it all night on the Modulus and now was
his chance to take center stage. Deftly setting up loops he soloed
with himself as the rhythm section held bay. The trio smoothly
switched up-tempo over and over (while the bass loop kept droning
along) as Dave sizzled the strings into submission. The tripped out
improvisation made way for heavy teases on "We Want the Funk"
and others. Finally, the tempo was slowed down and the
early, recognizable hints of some Neil Young were evident as the
rest of the band took the stage.
I caught Gov't Mule lay down a heart-wrenching version of "Cortez
the Killer" at the Roseland a week or two back that will forever set
the standard for versions of that song and maybe all Neil Young
covers. Panic eased
smoothly into yet another bust out, giving their try at this epitome of
musical intensity. It was a good shot and the song absolutely
wailed, I thought. It didn't touch that Mule version though, which is
still vivid and fresh in my mind. JB seemed to have trouble with the
lyrics which gave the whole thing a mistimed feel. But even that
couldn't wipe the smile off my face as each musician submersed
themselves in the throbbing flow of the tune. Four solos by JB,
Jojo, Schools and Houser bracketed each verse. Each solo
seemed to build off the other, each climax inching just a bit higher
before subsiding for the next round. Man, I could really see this
one poking it's head out on tour every once in a while.
Pretty wild how they just slung 4 straight new ones on us like that.
With their "load blown" and the audience truly satiated, it was time
to get back to the mind numbing "cuddling" that we've come to
expect from these guys. "Ain't Life Grand" > "Imitation Leather
Shoes" was great fun and plenty of skull-rattling head
slamming taboot. More of the seen-it-50-times-don't-mind-if-it's-50-
more variety and a powerfully, undoubtedly PANIC way to end a
The encore was more Widespread Panic "standards" the always-chilling "Pilgrims" followed by the always-jarring "Traveling Light"
showed off both the beauty and power of the band. Two "traveling"
themes songs, signaling the landing of our lunar exploration back
on Earth. It was a great trip, plenty of new discoveries and a lot of
fun in a weightless environment. Thanks to those "few good cats"
for helping us pass the night...
From New Yawk to Chicago
It's The Only Way To Fly
Go See Live Music!